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‘We’re in this together’: Residents get creative to help others navigate Orange Line shutdown

A bicyclist made a left out of the Community College Station where buses were running in place of Orange Line service.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Leading a convoy of cyclists. Designing a user-friendly map of MBTA closures and alternative routes. Offering to drive strangers who normally take the train.

With the Orange Line and part of the Green Line out of service for a month, a grass-roots effort has taken hold to guide riders through the confusion and delays, with people volunteering to help in a range of thoughtful, creative ways.

“Everyone who relies on the T in Boston feels like we’re in this together,” said Alex Cox, who revamped an MBTA map of alternative routes after noticing people found it “extremely difficult to interpret.”


“We want to help each other see this thing through and hopefully come out with a better transportation system on the other side,” he said.

Like many others, Cox, an urban planning student at the Harvard Graduate School of Design who knows the transit system “like the back of my hand,” found the MBTA’s initial diversion map slightly confusing.

So the 28-year-old got to work one recent evening, hunkering down at his computer to design a new visual that would show service options and closures “in the context of the whole central system.”

The result was a reworked version of the familiar systemwide MBTA map, and it won immediate praise from riders, with one calling it “easily the most helpful thing I’ve seen so far.”

“Especially in a situation like this ... it’s more important than ever for riders to be able to visualize the full menu of alternative service options available to them,” said Cox, who made slight revisions to his map on Monday to reflect the latest information.

The map created by Alex Cox. As of Monday, it reflects all of the latest alternative services added.Alex Cox

With Orange Line riders likely to face significant delays, some people even offered chauffeured commutes, complete with door-to-door service.

Earlier this month, one woman posted on Nextdoor, an app used to connect with neighbors, that she would be willing to provide car rides on days she was available to anyone who needed to get to work on time — free of charge.


Her generous proposal drew an outpouring of praise, with some people suggesting that similar offers might be worth posting on sites like Bay State Commute and in local Facebook groups.

“You are an amazing human being!” one person replied. “Good luck to you and those people in need!”

For Joan Liu, helping out came by hopping on two wheels. She had offered to lead cyclists from Assembly Row in Somerville to Tufts Medical Center in response to a callout from the Boston Cyclists Union “to show people how to bike into Boston.” Over the weekend, members of the group offered free bike tune-ups and ran a practice commute into the city.

Liu, 35, began biking into Boston during the pandemic when taking the Orange Line seemed unsafe. She was able to develop a couple of routes to downtown that she thought could be useful to others.

“It’s just amazing the amount of freedom of being able to go where you want to go and not worry about parking,” said Liu, who lives in Somerville.

She said she hoped that the shutdown will lead to more protected bike lanes and greater consideration of biking safety in roadway decisions.

While no one showed up for Liu’s ride on the first day of the shutdown — something she attributed to rain in the forecast and the early meet-up time — Liu said she will try again next week when it’s her turn to lead a convoy again.


“One thing that I find that makes biking a lot more accessible to more people is if you show them safe routes and places to watch out for,” Liu said. “It’s one of those things where I just feel like it’s so important just to give people other options.”

City Councilor Kendra Lara, meanwhile, created a handy travel guide by compiling information from the MBTA, the City of Boston, the Boston public schools, community-based organizations, and her office.

The guide, which was heralded by Senator Ed Markey and Representative Ayanna Pressley, is a living document that will “change and grow” in response to suggestions and updates, she said.

While Lara was praised for her guide, Markey said that it “shouldn’t be on community members and local officials to create the resources necessary to understand this shutdown.”

Are you an Orange Line commuter? Plan your alternative route

The tool assumes the closure of the Green Line Extension through North Station, which begins on Aug. 22. Additionally, MBTA officials have urged riders to look into local bus routes and bicycling for some of all of their trip. Bus stops and schedules can be found on the MBTA’s website.

Shannon Larson can be reached at shannon.larson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shannonlarson98.